Aiming for a sanctified life is the goal of every Christian. This article gives ten ways of killing sin for the goal of sanctification.

Source: The Banner of Sovereign Grace Truth, 2011. 5 pages.

Killing Your Sin

Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry.

Colossians 3:5

“The tiger ate her hand. It slowly proceeded to eat the rest of her arm.” That’s how Vikram Chari described the horrifying spectacle that he and his six-year-old son witnessed at the San Francisco Zoo on December 22, 2006, where a Siberian tiger named Tatiana attacked her keeper. For those who work with wild animals, the bloody assault was a reminder of what they know but don’t always remember – the creatures they’ve become so accustomed to can turn on them at any moment. As animal behaviorist Dave Salmoni puts it, “You can’t get the wild out of a cat because he’s in a cage.”1

Many of us think we can tame sin, but like a tiger, sin turns and masters us at the first opportunity. We may think we have evil under control, that we have tamed sin, rendering it harmless enough to share a peaceful, mutual coexistence. But sin will never be domesticated. It is a wolf, not a dog; a piranha, not a goldfish.

That’s why we can never be tolerant or open-minded about our sin. We are called to aggressively hate our sin – to despise it, reject it, deplore it, starve it, and make every effort to kill it. As the seventeenth-century pastor and theologian John Owen said, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”2

Killing sin includes putting to death both sinful actions (deeds) and the sinful motivations (passions and desires) which produce them. It involves the habitual rejection of sinful desires, motives, thoughts, and habits in our lives. If we are to kill sin, we must oppose it consistently. We must habitually fight its impulses and make every effort to weaken its power over us.

10 Ways to Kill Sin🔗

1. Yield yourself to God🔗

Yield yourself to God. In Romans 6:12-13, Paul teaches us that one of the first steps in fighting against sin is surren­dering to God.

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.

He specifies in this passage that we are to hand over our bodies and our members – every individual part of the body, without exception. This is particularly challenging in our self-centered culture. As David Wells writes:

Much of the church today, especially that part of it which is evangelical, is in captivity to this idolatry of the self. This is a form of corruption far more profound than the lists of infractions that typically pop into our minds when we hear the word sin. We are trying to hold at bay the gnats of small sins while swallowing the camel of self.3

We will never make much progress in the war against sin until we have first dethroned self. The denial of self-rule for God’s rule is Square One of the fight against sin. As Jesus Himself said, “Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34). Putting sin to death starts here.

2. Accept the Battle🔗

Accept that the battle never ends. Killing sin is a constant duty that will require lifelong battle. In Romans 8:12-13, Paul says,

We are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.

Owen captured the point well when he said, “You must always be at it while you live; do not take a day off from this work.”4 We must never let up the fight. Sin is always pounding away at us, “always acting, always conceiving, and always seducing and tempting.”5

This is not to say that genuine progress cannot be made in overcoming specific sins. Nevertheless, the Christian is never off duty when it comes to killing sin. “I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me” (Rom. 7:21). There is no cease-fire in this war.

3. Take God’s side🔗

Take God’s side against your sin. Every day we are faced with split-second choices. When provoked by mistreatment, will I indulge my anger and retaliate with angry words of my own or will I respond in love? When confronted with a sexually provocative image, will I indulge in lustful thoughts or turn away and seek to fill my mind with the pure pleasures of God? When weighted with respon­sibilities, will I run through every worrisome and self-reliant scenario or will I cast my anxious thoughts on the Lord?

The only way to mortify sin is to act with increasing consistency on the right inclinations instead of the wrong ones. This is the discipline of ongoing repentance. As John Stott writes:

The first great secret of holiness lies in the degree and decisiveness of our repentance. If besetting sins persistently plague us, it is either because we have never truly repented, or because, having repented, we have not maintained our repentance. It is as if, having nailed our old nature to the cross, we keep wistfully returning to the scene of its execution. We begin to fondle it, to caress it, to long for its release, even to try to take it down again from the cross. We need to learn to leave it there.6

4. Make no provision🔗

Make no provision for the flesh. Which flame is harder to extinguish, that of a match or a forest fire? Fires start small, then get bigger. Paul tells us, “Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts therefore (Rom. 13:14). This verse is about lighting fewer matches and being careful to snuff out the lit ones before the flames increase. In practice this means not expos­ing yourself to things – websites, magazines, or movies, for example – that are likely to bring strong temptation.

Making no provision for the flesh also involves rejecting the first inclinations of sin. In rejecting the urge to snap back in sarcasm at a hurtful word, or indulge the lustful thought or glance, we extinguish the match in those first few seconds. If we don’t, we may soon have a raging fire on our hands.

Owen wisely warns, “Rise mightily against the first sign of sin. Do not allow it to gain the smallest ground.”7 This was Jesus’ point when He said:

And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. Mark 9:43-48

These are frightening words that have been misconstrued by some as a demand for literal self-mutilation. But Jesus is teaching us to be radical in dealing with sin. We have to burn the bridges that lead us into sin. Ask yourself, “What am I allowing into my life that is clearly leading me into temptation or sin?” Cut it off. Let it go.

5. Use your sword🔗

Use your spiritual sword. As Romans 8:13 says, we must put sin to death “by the Spirit.” But how does the Spirit help us put sin to death? Consider Ephesians 6:17: “Take ... the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Linking Romans 8 and Ephesians 6 together, we see that one way the Spirit helps us kill sin is with His sword, the Scriptures.

The psalmist agreed:

Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word.... Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.Ps. 119:9-11

We need to follow the example of Jesus when He was tempted by Satan in the wilderness. Do you remember how Jesus responded to each temptation? “It is written” (Matt. 4:1-11)! He quoted Scripture; He used the Spirit’s sword.

Many believers sadly fail to defeat temptation because they lack sufficient skill with their spiritual weapon, the Word of God. When we do not avail ourselves of Scripture, we will have few resources for fighting sin when it appears unannounced. How skilled are you with your sword?

6. Aim at the heart🔗

Aim at the heart. Sin is a heart matter, not just a problem of behavior. Stomping on the fruit of sin – the sinful behavior itself – won’t kill the tree.

As Jesus said,

A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.Luke 6:45

If we focus only on sinful behavior and not on the motives and desires that generate the behavior, we will become hypocrites and fail to grow in holiness.

7. Replace sin with Grace🔗

Replace sin with grace. Repentance involves not just turning from, but turning to. Holiness demands both “putting off” and “putting on.” We must not only put off sin, we must put on grace. The negative must be replaced with the positive.

An effective and practical way to apply this to the sins you are fighting is to determine to kill each specific sin by cultivating the particular virtue which best counters it. Counter greed by cultivating contentment and generosity. Give more money away. Wage war on pride by practicing humility. Be quick to confess when you’re wrong. When tempted to lust, turn away your eyes and pray for them instead. Crucify self-centeredness by serving those around you.

How will you replace your sinful thought patterns and behaviors with those that are virtuous and Christlike?

8. Stay in community🔗

Stay in community. Battles are best fought by armies, not individuals. One of our strategies in putting sin to death must be to stay close to other Christians. “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, while it is called Today; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitful­ness of sin” (Heb. 3:12-13). One means God uses to keep people from falling away from Him is mutual, daily exhorta­tion. Perseverance in the faith is a community project.

Believers need one another. You need fellow Christians. You can’t do this alone. So stay in community. Live out the “one another” commands in the context of your local church. Build strong friendships with believers who will encourage and pray for you. Learn to confess your faults to them (James 5:16). Let your brothers and sisters in Christ help you kill your sin.

9. Look to the Cross🔗

Look to the cross. Without this, all other strategies will ultimately fail. Before Paul speaks of putting to death the deeds of the body in Romans 8:13, he reminds us that,

There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.Rom. 8:1-4

The righteous requirement of the law can be fulfilled in us only because we are in Christ Jesus, absolved from guilt and condemnation, and freed from the law of sin and death, through the sin-defeating death of God’s Son.

Over and over again, when the Bible commands us to put sin to death, it does so in the context of Christ’s victory over the very sins we battle. But the cross is also what progres­sively frees the affections of our hearts from the enticements of sin. Paul said, “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Gal. 6:14). Commenting on this verse, Owen writes:

The baits and pleasures of sin are all things in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. By these sin entices and entangles our souls. If the heart is filled with the cross of Christ, it casts death and undesir­ability on them all, leaving no seem­ing beauty, pleasure, or comeliness in them.... Labour, therefore, to fill your hearts with the cross of Christ.8

10. Depend on the Spirit🔗

Depend on the Spirit. Finally, as we look to the cross in our efforts to put sin to death, we must also remember that the power of the cross is only available to us through the Spirit of Christ. Remember Paul’s words:

For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.Rom. 8:13

this I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.Gal. 5:16

While our constant effort is necessary and required, we clearly cannot defeat sin in our own strength. This is true because only the Spirit can truly convict the heart of the evil and danger of sin. Only the Spirit can reveal to us the fullness of Christ and establish in our hearts the confident expectation of triumph through Him.9


  1. ^ Adapted from Patricia Yollin, “Horrified zoogoer recalls tiger attack,” The San Francisco Chronicle, Monday, January 1, 2007.
  2. ^ John Owen, The Mortification of Sin: Abridged and made easy to read by Rich­ard Rushing (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth, 2004), 5.
  3. ^ David F. Wells, Losing Our Virtue: Why the Church Must Recover Its Moral Vision (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998) 203-204.
  4. ^ Owen, Mortification, 5.
  5. ^ Ibid., 7.
  6. ^ John R. W. Stott, The Message of Galatians (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVar­sity, 1984), 151-52.
  7. ^ Owen, Mortification, 85 (author’s emphasis).
  8. ^ John Owen, Indwelling Sin in Believers: Abridged and Made Easy to Read (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth, 2010) 99-100.
  9. ^ See Owen, Mortification, 129.

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